Washington Park Cemetery, the forgotten burial place

In the completely overlooked and unknown north St. Louis County community of Berkeley, Missouri, lies an overgrown, forgotten, and largely abandoned cemetery. Washington Park Cemetery was founded in the 1920s as a burial place for the St. Louis area’s black residents. It lies just off Natural Bridge Road, about 1.5 miles from Lambert International Airport.

Today, few if anyone knows about this place. It has been the subject of news stories throughout the years, mainly involving land use controversies that led to cemetery land and graves being removed to make way for an interstate and more recently in 1993 for the MetroLink light rail, which connects the urban center with the airport. Literally thousands of former bodies were removed to make way for major public infrastructure.

I knew about this battered resting place ever since I was a kid. I could see the graves literally right next to Interstate 70, and read stories in the 1990s about the light rail and airport expansion disputes. When I stayed in a hotel literally just across from this cemetery in July, I instantly knew what the place was, even though I found no signs. All I found were grave markers, names of African-American residents who were interned and the weeds, trees, and brush that were taking over the place. It reminded me of Jewish cemeteries I found in Poland, now abandoned since the tragedy of the Shoah in the 1940s.

Here are a few shots that I took wandering around on my last night before flying back to Portland. It was hot, humid, and eery. In the distance in one shot is the Renaissance Hotel, a luxury airport accommodation that looms over the cemetery. I doubt a single guest at that place ever wanders in the back to see the history that is now slowly being taken over by the Missouri bush.

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)


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